At 39, former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre still looks like he just walked off the cover of a fitness magazine.
And the competitive juices still flow, despite the fact the native of St-Isidore, Que., officially retired in February 2019 and has fought just once in seven years.
“If you ask me in the middle of training, I’ll be like ‘Hell yeah, bring it on. I’ll do it,’” St-Pierre, who last fought in November 2017, said of a return to action. “Then after I go home, I’m like ‘I’m too old for this.’ Going back into a drama and stuff, it will be a lot of things to consider — the weight class, where is it, when is it?”
Plus St-Pierre, whose induction into the UFC Hall of Fame was announced in May, is not one to think small.
“For a fighter and a guy like me the most exciting thing to do, it’s also the scariest thing to do,” he said. “It’s to face someone who seems invincible, someone who’s never been beaten … to have a challenge that everybody, even your friends, even your entourage tells you ‘Hey you shouldn’t do it. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.’
“That’s what drives me … That’s what gives me the itch to come back,” he added. “But the chances are very, very small.”
That explains the interest in unbeaten former lightweight champion Khabib (The Eagle) Nurmagomedov. St-Pierre says they were unable to make the fight and, with both men retired, the window appears closed.
The pandemic hasn’t helped.
Quoting “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, St-Pierre says knowing the field of battle is all-important. Unable to train properly or fly in training partners because of pandemic-related restrictions, he says he could be at a disadvantage compared to a possible opponent.
St-Pierre (26-2-0) also says he no longer wants to waste energy thinking about things that may not happen. Not to mention he already has plenty on his plate.
The MMA icon added to his healthy list of sponsors on Wednesday with news of a deal with Budweiser Zero. The campaign, which also features former NHLer Paul Bissonnette, entails “setting bold goals and making smart choices” for 2021.
For St-Pierre, it’s a partnership that’s a perfect fit.
“I don’t drink often but when I do drink to celebrate, I drink a lot,” he said with a laugh. “That’s one of the reasons it’s good — it’s no alcohol and no sugar so it’s more healthy and it tastes good.”
St-Pierre’s current sponsors include Bet99 Sportsbook, Love Hemp, Hydro Revolution (resistance training), Royer (work boots). Protect the Fighter (respirators) and Vincent D’Amerique (clothing), and Jukado mats (for judo and MMA), among others.
St-Pierre, who still walks around at 185 pounds, knows his brand is health and fitness. His extensive regimen includes a three-day fast four times a year.
“I try to do the best thing I can, according to the resources available that we have now to stay healthy … It’s my job to train,” he said.
He also has his own combat-based workout regimen called Strike and has been working on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” mini-series, continuing his role of mercenary Georges Batroc from the 2014 film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
And there is the Georges St-Pierre Foundation, created to help stop bullying and promote physical activity in schools.
He was in Singapore earlier this year for a guest appearance on an Asian version of “The Apprentice” and is currently in quarantine after a business trip to Dubai. While self-isolating, St-Pierre has been sharing workout tips, including a handstand-based session.
Singapore had incredibly strict COVID-19 protocols while Dubai is using technology like widespread temperature sensors to check people, he reports.
St-Pierre says he constantly counts himself lucky given the impact of the pandemic.
“I don’t give myself the right to complain … I feel bad to see what’s going on,” he said. “A lot of my friends have lost their gyms and stuff like that. It’s pretty bad. It sucks. But it makes us remember to never take anything for granted.”
And, adding climate change to the mix, he hopes that what is happening today will make for better choices in the future.
“It makes us realize that sometimes we take everything for granted and we think we are in control of everything. But we are not. Nature is stronger than us,” he said.
St-Pierre last fought at UFC 217 when he moved up a weight class and dethroned middleweight champion Michael (The Count) Bisping. It marked a comeback after stepping away from the sport in the wake of a split decision win over Johny (Bigg Rigg) Hendricks at UFC 167 in November 2013.
At the time the welterweight champion said he needed time away from the demands of MMA. The sport was taking its toll given the obsessive way he trained and prepared.
Each opponent was a puzzle to be conquered.
While no longer active, St-Pierre still has a large reach. He has three million followers on Instagram and two million on Twitter.
In contrast, reigning UFC welterweight champion Kamaru (The Nigerian Nightmare) Usman has 1.5 million followers on Instagram and 381,100 followers on Twitter. The comparable numbers on middleweight title-holder Israel (The Last Stylebender) Adesanya are four million and 762,500.
St-Pierre, who does French commentary on selected UFC cards for RDS, says he enjoys watching “the best guys at what they do,” citing the likes of Nurmagomedov, Adesanya, Usman, Jon (Bones) Jones, Dominick Cruz, Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson and Henry Cejudo.
“They all have something unique that makes them great,” he said.
St-Pierre, a black belt in karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, says he always tries to keep the “white belt mentality” — that there’s always something new to learn.
He also enjoyed watching former fighters like Chael Sonnen and Tito Ortiz, who excelled at creating “emotional drama.”
Conor McGregor fits both camps. St-Pierre points to McGregor’s 13-second knockout of featherweight title-holder Jose Aldo at UFC 194 in December 2015.
“He played with his mind so much, Jose Aldo couldn’t control himself,” he said. “He (started) over-aggressive and was open to the left hand and Conor clipped him.”
McGregor returns to action on Jan. 23 against Dustin (The Diamond) Poirier at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi.
St-Pierre’s entry into the UFC Hall of Fame has been delayed by the pandemic. A UFC spokeswoman said he will be inducted next year alongside the class of 2021.
He still ranks No. 1 in the UFC for career strikes landed (2,591), most significant ground strikes landed (461), most takedowns landed (90), control time (2:42:04) and time in top position (2:22:05).
His 13 title fight victories and 13 consecutive win are second in UFC history behind Jones (14) and Anderson Silva (16), respectively.
The championship belt from his UFC 94 title defence win over B.J. Penn in January 2009 is now housed in the Canadian Museum of History along with the shorts and gloves that he wore.
UFC president Dana White called St-Pierre “a pioneer of Canadian MMA who helped build the sport globally.”
“He is the most famous athlete to ever come out of Canada and one of the greatest martial artists of all-time,” he added.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press